Monday, December 22, 2008

Two More Delicious Meals at Evening Star!

On Friday night, David and I were looking for a quiet date night and of course we ended up at one of our favorite spots: Evening Star in Del Ray. As I’ve mentioned before, the food at Evening Star is always flavorful and the wines are well priced and they have a large selection of wines by the glass. David and I had not been to Evening Star in awhile so it was nice to be back.

We were thrilled to see Dennis, our favorite waiter, and he informed us that the chef now tries to make every dish on the menu as celiac friendly as possible. Great news! We ate the Mixed Grill as an appetizer which includes a grilled scallop and bacon with corn and an avocado puree. Wow! Sadly, I had never actually eaten a scallop before and it was so good! For dinner I chose the ‘Forever Braised Short Ribs’ with butternut squash risotto. Delicious! The meat was so tender and a perfect combination with the jus, risotto and meat. Also, for a celiac to simply be able to order an actual entrée off of the menu and not have to get it altered at all is so unusual and a welcome change.

I enjoyed my meal so much that I decided to bring my sister-in-law, Blair, to Evening Star on Sunday night while our husbands attended the Redskins game. Blair ordered the highly recommended short ribs and even though I wanted the short ribs again I decided to branch out and try something new. It was between the salmon and the duck for me, but I went with the pan roasted duck breast and I’m glad I did. It was cooked perfectly and full of flavor. The only modification I had to make to the entrée was to substitute the squash risotto for the barley risotto that comes with the duck. Of course I didn’t mind this modification at all because squash risotto is one of my favorite dishes.

Many thanks to Evening Star for considering all of the celiacs out there when planning menus! It is so nice to look at the menu and know there are multiple options for me and that the chef and waiters understand my needs. David and I look forward to many more date nights and evenings with friends at Evening Star. (Non-celiacs love Evening Star too!)

Evening Star Cafe
2000 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Drinks at Cheesetique

Looking for a cozy spot to get a glass of wine after work? You don’t even have to cross the river to find the perfect place! Last night I went out for drinks at Cheesetique in Del Ray. Cheesetique is a wine and cheese shop as well as a wine bar. It used to just be a cheese shop but they recently moved down the street to a larger location. When you enter the building, walk to the back and seat yourself at the bar or tables. The atmosphere is laid back, warm and not too loud. You also don't feel rushed by the wait staff to finish, which I always appreciate.

While their wines are a bit pricey, I think it’s worth the cost because you know you’re getting a good glass of wine. On this evening I tried two of their reds that were smooth and perfect for a cold December night: the Cotes du Rhone and Rioja (this one was my personal favorite and very reasonably priced at $8).

We also ordered three cheeses from their cheese menu that were flavorful and each one was distinctly unique. The menu includes nice descriptions of the cheeses and wines to help you decide what you want and what flavors to expect. The cheese plate, with three cheeses, was $15 and plenty for four people. On a celiac friendly note, Cheesetique serves the bread and crackers on a separate platter so you don’t have to worry about crumbs contaminating the cheese. Cheesetique even sells gluten free crackers in their store so I’m sure you could purchase some to have with your cheese platter.

Cheesetique has a lunch and dinner menu, but I have not experimented or enquired about its gluten free potential yet. There are plenty of salads on the menu so that’s a good sign. Just another reason to go back! Cheesetique's wine bar includes a large bar and a handful of tables, but they do not take reservations. We had no problem getting a table, but it was definitely crowded when we left. This is a great spot if you're looking to get your family out of the house over the holidays but you're not necessarily looking to spend a lot of money on a huge meal.

Cheesetique Specialty Cheese Shop
2411 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gluten Free Gift Ideas

Do you have a friend with celiacs that you're shopping for this holiday season? As I'm writing this posting, students of mine are bringing me a handful of Christmas gifts, some of which I won't be able to eat, including biscotti and cookies. (It's the thought that counts, right?) On that note, a 'Gluten Free in DC' reader asked me about gluten free Christmas gift ideas and places to purchase gluten free foods. Of course anything that's non-edible is fine, but during the holidays we all like to give and receive edible goodies!

I don't know of a place that does specifically gluten free baskets (that's a great business idea!), but I would recommend going to Whole Foods. There are so many options at Whole Foods that you could put into a basket or gift bag. A nice idea would be cheese and gluten free crackers (Mary's Gone Crackers is a personal favorite.) Any cheeses, except veiny cheeses (like blue cheese) are gluten free. Wine is gluten free so that can be a good and easy gift. Nuts and dried fruit could also be a nice addition to the basket. As I've mentioned before, Buzz Bakery sells gluten free cupcakes and brownies that are delicious and baked goods are always appreciated by celiacs!

If you're looking for stocking stuffer ideas, some of my favorite gluten free candies are M&Ms, Hershey's Kisses, 3 Musketeers and Reece's Cups.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas is Coming...

As any celiac knows, the holidays can be tricky with the many parties and festivities where gluten filled goodies will be served. Many of my friends are wonderful about putting out gluten free snacks whenever hosting me, but I like to bring something sweet and gluten free to my hosts. This way you’re guaranteed to have something you can eat…just make sure they aren’t put on the same tray as other cookies that do contain gluten.

Throughout the next few weeks I will be blogging about holiday cooking and baking in hopes that I will provide you with culinary ideas you can use at your own parties, share with your friends or even use as gifts. The holidays are a time to give, share and spend time with friends and families. This time of year is a perfect opportunity to show others how good gluten free food can be and remind yourself that you don’t need to miss out on all of the fun simply because of your dietary needs. Happy GF Holidays!

Christmas Monster Cookies:
These cookies are delicious and using Holiday M&Ms can add a festive touch. I also love this recipe because it makes enough cookies for a large group (think gift giving or holiday parties) and they freeze well. I’ll be bringing a batch to my friends’ Whit and Meredith’s holiday party this weekend:
1/3 cup softened butter
¾ cup brown sugar (tightly packed)
¾ cup sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. gluten free vanilla (McCormick now specifies on the back that its vanilla is GF…Hooray!)
2 eggs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups gluten free oats (Note: Bob’s Red Mill now has certified gluten free oats; you can order them online; they can be difficult to find in stores so when I find them, I buy a lot. I most recently found them at Ukrop’s in Richmond.)
1 cup holiday plain M&Ms
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 and grease cookie sheet.
Using a mixer, combine butter and sugar. Then mix in eggs, vanilla and baking soda. Add peanut butter and mix until blended. Mix in oats on slow speed (I usually start with 2 ½ cups and add more, depending on what I want the consistency to be like.) Then add M&Ms and chocolate chips and mix slowly.
(If I have time, I refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes, but it's not necessary.)
Using a spoon, place balls of mix onto cookie sheet and bake for 9-12 minutes, depending on how brown you want them and how big you make your cookies. I usually check on them after 9 minutes and see how their looking.
Place on cooling rack and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Food For Thought: pills fix everything!!

Check out this link about potential pills to help celiacs. Definitely interesting to think about. I think I'm in agreement with Glutenfree Chicago...I don't mind not having the wheat but it would be nice to take a pill before going to restaurants just in case there's contamination.

gluten-free chicago: pills fix everything!!

Betsy's Mashed Potatoes

My mom and I LOVE mashed potatoes so this is a go to side dish at holiday meals. Simple, flavorful and minimal dishes to wash!
2 ½-3 lbs. red potatoes washed (not peeled)
¼ cup parmesan cheese
Plenty of salt and pepper
¾ cup 2% milk (warmed)

Wash potatoes and put in a pot. Fill with water to cover potatoes. Boil water and let potatoes cook for 25-30 minutes once water boils. Once potatoes are tender to the touch of a fork, drain water. (Don’t poke with fork too much because potatoes will dry out.) Add half of the milk and start to mash with a potato masher. Add rest of milk and start adding salt and pepper and parmesan cheese.

Taste as you add more cheese, salt and pepper. You might choose to use more or less milk and cheese depending on your taste buds and desired consistency of potatoes. (I prefer chunky mashed potatoes but if you want them smoother, add more milk.)

I like this side dish because it’s relatively easy and you don’t even need to break out the Kitchen Aid. It’s perfect when there’s already a lot going on in the kitchen…it minimizes dishes and space. I find that the skin left on adds color and texture to the dish!

Leftover Tip: These reheat well in the microwave, but I suggest adding a little milk before reheating.

Recipe Variation: Use sour cream instead of or in addition to parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Simple and Flavorful Food!

Gluten Free in DC enjoyed getting away from the city during the Thanksgiving break! The husband (whom I’ll now refer to by his real name, David) and I went to Onancock, Virginia with my parents, grandparents, brother and his wife to celebrate the holiday. In the year that I have been diagnosed with Celiacs, I have become more and more aware of just how much food is a major part of all of our celebrations, traditions and holidays so I am appreciative to all of my family members on both sides of my family for making the holiday season gluten free friendly!

You might be asking yourself, where in the world is Onancock? Well, Onancock is located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which is the peninsula off of Maryland. Yes, it’s actually Virginia. You can get to it by driving through Annapolis and the Eastern Shore of MD. (See map above for more details.)

So why do I love the Eastern Shore? The Eastern Shore is always a much needed break from life in D.C. My parents have a house on a small creek that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. In the summer there’s lots of boating and cocktail hours on the dock, but I think the winter is my favorite time to be on the Shore. There’s no internet, no major cities within an hour’s drive and most importantly, no schedule. The typical day consists of reading, napping, watching college sports on TV, and cooking yummy food. Not only do I love cooking on the Shore, but I also look forward to planning the menus. It’s so nice to have plenty of time to cook and it’s always fun to cook with the husband, Mom and my sister-in-law, Alden. (The other members of the family tend to stay out of the kitchen!)

This year for Thanksgiving dinner we continued our new tradition of cooking beef tenderloin instead of a turkey. We still cook a turkey breast so that we can have cold turkey sandwiches with canned cranberry for lunch, but for the meal itself, we eat beef tenderloin. David cooked the tenderloin and I must say that he did an amazing job. He tested his culinary skills by cooking the tenderloin on the grill for the first time. The flavors were unbelievable even though David prepared the meat simply using only olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary.

As sides for the meal, we made mashed potatoes and green beans. My mom’s trick with the green beans is to cook them on the stove, drain them, and add a little butter, salt, pepper and vinegar. The vinegar gives them a great kick but it’s not overwhelming. They are so simple and easy.

To top off the meal I purchased from Whole Foods a variety of pies and their creamy biscuits, all from the gluten free frozen section. The Whole Foods pies are perfect because everyone has strong feelings about what pie flavor they prefer and the pies are small so you don’t feel badly buying a variety. While they might seem a bit pricy, it's so worth it to be able to enjoy dessert with everyone else! We had a sampler of apple, pumpkin and cherry pies, which lasted us for desserts beyond Thanksgiving day.

The Shore was a great escape from the hectic city and a perfect time to enjoy delicious food cooked with love!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another meal at Tortilla Coast

As any celiac knows, it's great to have a meal at a restaurant and feel healthy the next day, but it's really great when you eat there twice, and both times emerge healthy and happy! I went to Tortilla Coast last night with some friends and the meal was just as excellent and gluten free as the first time I went.

Also, I called ahead in the morning to tell them that I would be dining there that night and they fried a special batch of chips for me before the oil got contaminated with gluten. When I arrived they served them to me and they were warm, salty, crunchy and delicious! So I got to have chips and salsa just like everyone else. How awesome is that?! It's so nice to feel normal when dining at a restaurant.

Vegetables, grains, superfoods and more!

I mentioned Heidi Swanson the other day and her Super Natural Cooking cookbook. Well, I just found out that she has a great website with tons of vegetarian recipes. She also has a section of gluten free recipes! Hopefully this will give you some good ideas for Thanksgiving. Just looking at the pictures will make you want to cook!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Adding spice to your gluten free cooking: Old Bay

The husband and I love Old Bay! Ever since my friend, Becky, gave us a huge container of the seasoning salt as an engagement gift (she's from Easton so that sort of explains the gift), we've loved using it. When I was first diagnosed with celiacs, we immediately checked to see if Old Bay is gluten free. Lucky for us, it is!

Old Bay is a seasoning salt that is typically used when eating crabs. The husband and I have found that it adds good flavor to many foods. Two of our favorites are sweet potato fries and burgers. This combo is one of our go to weeknight meals and it's perfect for having a group of people over for dinner. Old Bay is yummy in both turkey burgers and hamburgers and the recipe we use is the same for both.

Old Bay Dinner for 6

Old Bay Burgers:
2 lbs. hamburger (I prefer 85/15...90/10 gets a bit dry)
2 eggs
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 T. Old Bay (the husband and I vary our amount of Old Bay depending on whose taste buds we're our minds, you can't have too much! 4 tablespoons is actually a bit conservative)
Sliced white cheddar cheese
Sliced avocado
Sliced fresh tomato

1. Heat olive oil in pan and add chopped onion. Saute until onion is brown.
2. In a bowl, mix meat, eggs, onion and Old Bay.
3. Make into 7 patties and they are ready to cook. I think everything is better on the grill, but you can make them on the stove top as well.
4. Add cheese when burgers are almost cooked through.
5. Top burgers with avocado and tomato.

*Note: we prefer to go bunless with these burgers. I still haven't found a gluten free bun that I love and I find that eating burgers with a fork is not the end of the world; in fact, it makes the dinner seem a little fancier!

Old Bay Sweet Potato Fries:
4 Large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into strips (think steak fries shape...2 inches wide, 4 inches long, and about 1/2 inch thick)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Old Bay

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a bowl, mix olive oil and Old Bay; then add sweet potatoes and mix
3. Lay sweet potatoes flat on cookie sheet.
4. Cook for 10 minutes and then flip sweet potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes.
I keep my eye on them and serve them once they start to get brown and a little crispy. The husband thinks you can't overcook them!

We usually serve this meal with a nice salad as well to add more color to the plate. You can use the extra tomato and avocado for the salad. One of my favorite GF dressings is Maple Farms of Vermont Balsamic Vinaigrette.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Finding Gluten Free 'Comfort' in Richmond

A few weeks ago the husband and I were in Richmond, Virginia for a wedding. We have many good friends in Richmond so on Friday night we met up for dinner with some good friends from college. When I tell you that we had an amazing dining experience, this is no exaggeration! We went to Comfort (Broad Street) which is known for its yummy southern comfort fare. I had heard great things about Comfort and was hopeful that they would be willing to accommodate me.

The husband and I arrived a little early so we had a drink at the bar. Their beverage and food prices are shockingly reasonable (particularly since I’m used to DC dining prices) and the husband was immediately enthralled by the wide variety of bourbons they offered. Comfort does not take reservations so plan on having a drink at the bar while you wait. This part of the night was just as fun as the remainder of the evening so I didn’t see it as a pain at all. The bartender nicely talked with us and told me that they would definitely be able to find food suitable for me.

Our friends arrived and we were seated in a booth in the back of the restaurant and I immediately began to salivate over the menu! Everything looked delicious and I LOVE side dishes so there were many items I wanted…the question was could I actually eat any of them? Our waitress was incredibly nice and she has a gluten intolerance herself so she knew everything about the menu and what I could and could not eat. For example, she knew that I shouldn’t order the meatloaf because it contains oats. She circled all of the sides that I could have (unfortunately I couldn’t eat the squash casserole or fried okra but there were so many options that it didn’t matter.) She also informed me that all of the entrees were gluten free except the meatloaf and fried catfish.

As all of my fellow celiacs know, just having the ability to choose from so many things on the menu is a rare experience! So what did I order? I had the short ribs as my entrée and the sweet potato puree and asparagus for my sides. What a meal! I ate every single bite and felt totally healthy the next day. Hooray! Definitely a success!

My trip to Comfort was one of my best dining experiences since being diagnosed. The entire staff at Comfort was so welcoming and ‘comforting.’ They understood contamination and all of the little ways gluten can sneak into your food. I was a little nervous about contamination because the kitchen is so small, but it wasn’t a problem at all. I enjoyed a rich, flavorful and filling meal and I actually felt like I had choices! If you’re going to Richmond or driving through, make a stop at Comfort!

200 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23220

Friday, November 21, 2008

What's for dessert? Buzz Bakery

After a meal at Rustico, the husband and I often walk across the street to Buzz Bakery. Buzz is always ‘buzzing’ with people and they have a huge array of cakes, cookies and pastries. The best part is they have yummy gluten free treats! On the menu, Buzz has two types of gluten free brownies and cupcakes. I recommend the chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing. Before experiencing Buzz, I was never a huge fan of chocolate cake, but their chocolate cupcake is very flavorful and actually tastes like real cake. (It doesn’t leave a funny aftertaste like some gluten free sweets.) If you get a cupcake to take home for later, I recommend sticking it in the fridge and then zapping it in the microwave for about five seconds when you’re ready to eat. The brownies also freeze well. These treats are a bit pricy, but the chocolate cupcake is definitely worth the $3!

Not only does Buzz serve coffee drinks at Buzz, but they also sell wine by the glass and even champagne! Buzz stays open until midnight every night so you can always go for an after dinner dessert and coffee/champagne. Enjoy!

901 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA 22314

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rustico's Chick Pea Crust Pizza

Last night the husband and I went to Rustico in Alexandria for dinner. We love their pizzas and they make a chick pea flour crust pizza that is by far the best gluten free pizza that I've eaten. The chick pea makes the crust much heartier and flavorful than the rice flower crusts I've tasted before. A word of warning: The people at Rustico make regular flour pizza as well so they don't guarantee a gluten free kitchen. I appreciate that they understand this concept! That being said, they do cook the chick pea crusts in a different oven from the gluten pizzas AND they make the dough in a separate area of the kitchen.

The atmosphere at Rustico is very warm and welcoming. The husband and I enjoy eating at both the bar and in the restaurant. They offer the full menu in the bar and there are many booths as well. There are TVs to watch athletics and while it's busy, it's not so loud that you can't hear the people that are in your group.

Last night I ordered the sausage pizza which is by far my favorite. The sausage is homemade and gluten free! One of my other favorites is the roasted mushroom with goat cheese. You can also create your own pizza too. In the past I've ordered grilled chicken and pesto. Yummy! One of the best parts is that I always have leftovers! Rustico also has a huge selection of beers, including about six gluten free beers. Pizza and beer, what more could a celiac want?!

The manager at Rustico is very friendly and nice. He always stops by our table to talk to us and see how we're doing. You can also order pizzas for take out as well, which is a fun idea for a Sunday afternoon of football.

So while there is a risk of contamination at Rustico, the fact that the staff understands that there is a risk and that they try to minimize the risk. As you know, any time we celiacs go out to dinner, we're taking a chance. That being said, the pizza is delicious and the staff wants to be accommodating. Even though I've had contamination in the past at Rustico (I'm extremely sensitive to gluten contamination), none of my other celiac friends have gotten sick.

Overall, Rustico is a fun place to go where celiacs can get food that is rarely available to us. This is a regular spot for us! It's a great place to take non-celiac friends. Some people even prefer the chick pea crust to the regular crust!

827 Slaters Lane Alexandria, VA 22314 703.224.5051

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You can't always go out to dinner...favorite recipes

While the husband and I love to go out to dinner, we like to cook even more! Even since I was diagnosed with celiacs, we still use 'normal' cookbooks because there are so many delicious recipes out there that are naturally gluten free. Our three favorite cookbooks are,

- The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Ina Garten) The husband's sister, Heidi, introduced us to the world of Barefoot! While all of her cookbooks are great, the original is our favorite. Her perfect roast chicken is so simple, easy and amazing! (Just skip the 2 tsp. of flour.)

- Super Natural Cooking (Heidi Swanson) Given to me by Heidi, this cookbook is vegetarian and uses many different (non-gluten grains) in its recipes. My personal favorite is the chunky lentil soup. It's so hearty and perfect for the upcoming cold months. Serve it with GF corn bread and it's a great dinner.

- The New Best Recipe (Cook's Illustrated) The husband gave me this cookbook for Christmas last year and it has over 1,000 recipes. For example, the writers experiment with the best ways to make oven french fries and they tell you what the best method is. Lucky for us, the fries are GF and so good! You don't even need a frier to make them!

Both of our lives are hectic and busy, so taking the time to prepare meals together is one of the things we like to do most. In this blog, I hope to share some of our favorite recipes with you in addition to just reviewing restaurants because for the celiac, eating at home is always the safest and most comfortable place to eat!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lunch at Whole Foods

One of my favorite places to go for lunch on Saturday is Whole Foods in Alexandria (1700 Duke Street). First of all, I could spend hours wandering the aisles at Whole Foods, looking at all of the beautiful items. There is so much for the celiac to eat at Whole Foods and they even make their own line of gluten free foods which can be found in the freezer section. The apple and pumpkin pies actually taste like real pie!

While I could write all day about the incredible gluten free products, the part of Whole Foods that I love the most is their prepared food section. Oftentimes when friends suggest a lunch date, I choose Whole Foods. The store even has a large area to sit at the store or you can take it to go. Today I went with my friends Meredith and Ellie and we each had yummy and very different meals.

I love the salad bar at Whole Foods for many reasons. Their ingredients are always fresh and everything actually looks good...not like it's been sitting there all day! Also, they list every ingredient in every item on the salad bar.

A word of warning though: Celiacs should always be careful about any kind of buffet/salad bar because of the potential for cross contamination. One of the things I check out first is where the items are located in the salad bar. For example, if there's chicken next to a cold cous cous salad, I will avoid that chicken as well because of its close proximity to the cous cous as it's likely people have dropped cous cous into the chicken. While sometimes I'm disappointed that there are things I can't have, there are so many options that I always have plenty of healthy and yummy items in my salad.

Today in my salad I had a variety of goodness on top of my greens. I had the usual carrots, corn, and grilled chicken, but I also topped my salad with snap peas, a quinoa & chickpea salad, grilled veggies and a cold red bean and rice salad. I also purchased the new Mary's Gone Crakers 'Twigs and Sticks' that I substituted for croutons so as to add a little saltiness to the salad. I usually go with the balsalmic vinagarette dressing, but as I said before all of the ingredients are listed for every item, included salad dressings, so there are many options! Enjoy!

Whole Foods
1700 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

Blue Duck Tavern

The husband and I had been reading about Blue Duck Tavern (24th and M) for awhile and hearing great things about the cuisine. Before even eating at the restaurant I loved their philosophy of using fresh and local ingredients. (As I'm a 'wannabe foodie' I'm a bit obsessed with the local food movement...more on that later!) We knew nothing about whether or not Blue Duck would accommodate my dietary needs, but I figured that simply due to the fact that they use such natural and fresh ingredients, there would be something I could eat. And fortunately we were right!

This summer the husband and I decided to experience Blue Duck cuisine first hand and we took his parents and sister for a birthday celebration. The decor of Blue Duck is very unique. There are wooden rocking chairs in the lobby and there's a rustic American feel. Blue Duck is attached to the Hyatt, but you never notice or realize it while you're in the restaurant. The kitchen is totally open to the restaurant so you can watch the chef in action...that always makes me feel safer about my food because they have to be clean if people are watching! We sat at a huge wooden table (at times it was hard to hear each other, so I would prefer a booth) and started examining the menu.

I had mentioned my celiacs when I made the reservations and the hostess I spoke with assured me that it shouldn't be a problem. Once we arrived they already had documented my allergy and my waiter immediately told me to pick exactly what I wanted and he would ask the chef. The waiter was very knowledgeable about the ingredients, but he always double checked with the chef which made me feel safer. (Sometimes I get concerned when a waiter acts overconfident and doesn't want to talk to the chef because he insists that he knows everything.)

Not only did the waiter check with the chef about the items I wanted, but he also asked the chef whether or not there was gluten in the selections of my family members. This was awesome because one of the things I miss as a cealic is being able to share bites of food with the people I'm with! There were very few things I could not have on the menu. I believe there was only one entree that I could not have or that couldn't be modified in some way to accommodate me.

So what did I get? The menu changes all the time because they use fresh ingredients. I ordered lamb that was unbelievable. It was so tender and the sauce was delicious. I could have it totally as is. They didn't have to modify it at all. I believe the lamb I ordered this summer was different from what's currently on the online menu so you'll always want to check with the chef about their current items. The best news was that pretty much all of the sides were gluten free, including the grits and mashed potatoes! We also shared a baby green salad, white asparagus and a pate.

Blue Duck was the perfect venue to celebrate with family and friends because the meal was very much family style. We passed sides and appetizers around the table and I could participate in the culinary sharing. When people ask me what food I miss the most since being diagnosed as a celiac, I tell them that it's not the food, it's the experiences. Wedding receptions and birthday parties where you have to watch everyone else eat together are difficult and even a little lonely. Fortunately, I have wonderful family and friends that are always looking out for me and finding ways to make me feel included. At Blue Duck, I felt a part of the festivities! I could even share homemade peanut butter ice cream for dessert.

Overall, the food at Blue Duck is amazing. They are committed to fresh and simple ingredients, which is a perfect combination for celiac customers. The waiter did not pretend to know everything about celiacs, which I actually appreciated because he checked on everything. When going to Blue Duke (which I high recommend) you definitely want to make reservations in advance.

Blue Duck Tavern: 24 & M Streets, Northwest
Washington, D.C.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What do I say?

I've had a request to go through what exactly I say to restaurants when trying to explain my gluten free needs. It can be scary, awkward and intimidating, but this is for our health, comfort and it will ultimately make the next celiac visit to that restaurant a little easier so it's worth it...I promise!

1: Always be polite and appreciative, BUT never apologetic. Not apologizing is tough, and I have trouble following my own rule here, but you should never apologize for a disease over which you have no control.

2: I ask, "Have you heard of gluten?" I can immediately gauge whether I'm going to attempt to eat anything here based on the confident "yes, we train all of our employees in food allergies" or the puzzled expression on the manager's face.

3. If they know about gluten, but don't have a special menu, I remind them where gluten can be found (wheat, rye and barley) and that I have a disease that requires me to abide by a strictly gluten free diet.

4. If they assure me that I can eat here, I then select a few dishes in my mind that I would be interested in eating and that possibly don't contain gluten. I ask the manager about these specific dishes. (It can be overwhelming to both the manager and the celiac customer to ask about the entire menu).

5. If they tell me those dishes are fine, I proceed to ask them about the not as well know things gluten is found in: soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings, fryers that could be contaminated.

6. I also ask about how they prepare their food and what their kitchen is like. If they prepare everything on the same griddle, it's likely to be contaminated. I've found that people are very honest about this. I've had waiters tell me that I probably shouldn't eat at the restaurant because of the way they cook their food and that it's a busy day for them in the kitchen so they don't have the time to clean as well as the should. (This is why I tend to avoid Sunday brunch at restaurants and diners.)

7. Continue thanking them throughout the meal. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. If the meal went particularly well (i.e. Tortilla Coast), I'll even contact the restaurant the next day to thank them for accommodating me.

8. A word of warning: this can be a lengthy process, but it's so worth it! None of us want to be a pain to the restaurant or the people we're with, but the pain and damage it will do to our bodies if we don't, is more important.

A final note: Never feel like you HAVE to eat something. Go with your gut...literally and figuratively. You can politely leave the restaurant at any time. If the meal arrives and you don't feel comfortable, double check with them and if you still don't feel safe, don't eat it! I was at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon this summer and I had a bad feeling about the meal when it arrived, but I ate it anyways, and I regretted my decision to not double check for the next 3 days (including a cross country flight)!

So don't avoid restaurants and dining experiences because you're scared! There's so much yummy food out there and just because you have celiacs, doesn't mean you should miss out!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clarification: Firefly (Dupont) vs. Fireflies (Del Ray)

There's been a little bit of confusion about Firefly. There are two restaurants in the DC area that have similar names: Firefly, which I blogged about yesterday (Dupont) and Fireflies, which is a restaurant in Del Ray. These restaurants have different owners and no affiliation. The husband and I used to frequent Fireflies (Del Ray) before my diagnosis.

Unfortunately their menu mostly consists of sandwiches and pizza, which aren't so good for a celiac customer. I do love their Sunday brunch, however, and their omletes are delicious with many fresh ingredients. I like to get grilled chicken, gouda and spinach in mine. They serve two types of hash browns and one of them is gluten free. (The ones that look like a McDonald's hash brown patty are NOT gluten free.) When I went to Fireflies (Del Ray) right after I was diagnosed, the waitress was very knowledgeable about gluten (she's a nutritionist) and she did caution me that they make the pizzas (flour in the air) in the same small kitchen that they do all of their cooking. I took the risk and I was fine. I have not been back in awhile but we had a good experience.

You don't need to make reservations here, and there's great blue grass music on Sundays. While the music is great, I try to avoid sitting too close to the can be difficult to talk to the people with you if you're too close to the music.

I think it would be harder to find things on the lunch/dinner menu though. They do have some salads that look yummy so let me know if you go there and inquire about the salads.

Sorry for the confusion about the two restaurants!
Fireflies (Del Ray)
1501 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexanria, VA 22301

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Evening Star

The husband and I love going to Del Ray, a cute 'up and coming' neighborhood in Alexandria. One of our favorite restaurants is Evening Star Cafe. They have a quaint dining area and two bars. The downstairs bar can get a bit smoky, but we just discovered the upstairs bar, which is non-smoking and has TVs for watching sports. Besides the food, I also love Evening Star's lengthy AND reasonably priced wine list. The owners also own Planet Wine, a wine store next door to Evening Store that also has a wonderful selection of wines and they are very knowledgeable and friendly. Sometimes they even sell gluten free brownies from Buzz bakery.

Now to the best part...the food! Every time I have gone to Evening Star, the wait staff has been more than willing to accommodate me. Their menu changes seasonally, but usually a large part of the menu can be modified to fit my gluten free needs. I'm a big fan of the salmon and their sides are delicious. Just make sure that the waiter clearly understands about the potential for contamination as well. It's a small kitchen so it's always good to give a friendly reminder.
For lunch I enjoy one of their salads with grilled chicken and one of their vinaigrettes. I have not been to Evening Star for brunch since I've been diagnosed, but from my 'pre-celiac days,' I can tell you, the brunch is awesome! I'm not sure, however, what their GF options are for brunch.

The staff at Evening Star is very friendly and the chef has even come out to talk to me before to make sure that I feel comfortable. Evening Star doesn't take reservations so plan on having a drink at the bar if you want to go on a Friday or Saturday night. It's worth the wait!

Note: The owners of Evening Star also own Rustico, Tallulah, and Buzz Bakery...I'll be blogging about them soon!

Evening Star Cafe: 2000 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301
Telephone (703) 549-5051


The husband and I discovered that Firefly (in Dupont) is gluten free friendly last winter. We called ahead and when I arrived at the restaurant, the chef had created a special menu for me on which he crossed out the dishes that I could not have. I was left with many delicious options to choose from. Now Firefly actually has a gluten free menu and every time the husband calls to make reservations, they have in their computer that I cannot have gluten.

Even if I didn't have celiacs, I would still love Firefly and its food! The atmosphere at this small restaurant is warm and not too loud. The decor is very cool and there's even a tree in the middle of the restaurant. You can order off the menu in the bar or the restaurant and there is a nice wine selection. The wait staff is very friendly and helpful. They always tell me what specials I can and can't have as well and they're always willing to change the dish so that I can get what I want.

My absolute favorite thing on the menu...the mini pot roast. This dish is cooked so perfectly that it falls apart in your mouth. The sauce is gluten free and the mashed potatoes that it comes with, so not a thing has to be changed.

I just checked the Firefly website and they now have a GF menu posted online:
(The bold items are the ones that are GF.)

Also of note about the menu, the Truffle Fries are totally gluten free because they're not fried in contaminated oil! So, if you're craving fries, Firely is the place to go! I've never had the grits...they say they're gluten free but I would ask about the bacon before I order them. Next time I'll inquire about those!

If you want to try Firefly, you should definitely make reservations because the restaurant is small and a popular spot for many DC folks.
Firefly: 1310 New Hampshire Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20036

Tortilla Coast Side Note: Thank you Hilary!!

Side note about Tortilla Coast: Apparently there's a woman named Hilary who goes to Tortilla Coast and she has celiacs. Brandon (my favorite manager) says she's been great about educating the restaurant staff about Celiacs, where gluten is found, contamination, etc. Thank you, thank you Hilary! This is why it's SO important that all of us celiacs inform and explain clearly to restaurants what are needs are. I know we feel like we're being a major pain, but the more restaurants know, the better! I've found that places are so helpful and want to cater to our needs but it's imperative these places know just how serious we are about our disease and that we're not just on some version of the low carb diet...definitely a pet peeve of mine!
So again, thank you Hilary!

Tortilla Coast

Hooray for Tortilla Coast! My parents have always loved Tortilla Coast which is a Tex-Mex restaurant located on Capital Hill. Since my diagnosis I have assumed that I would not be able to eat there. Last night my Dad and I attended a history lecture at the Freer and he suggested Tortilla Coast after the lecture.

I decided to give Tortilla Coast a call to see if they had ever heard the word gluten. To my surprise, they were very knowledgeable about gluten allergies, so much so that the woman on the phone told me not to eat the chips when I arrived because they are fried in the same oil as foods containing gluten. Already I was thrilled! She told me that all of their staff is taught about food allergies and that I should ask for Brandon, the manager, when I got to the restaurant.

When we arrived, the waitress was so friendly and Brandon made me feel confident that they knew what they were talking about! For example, Brandon knew that I couldn't have the steak because the marinade contained soy sauce. He also assured me they are very careful about contamination when preparing dishes for those with gluten allergies.

Brandon also walked me through the menu and he was so nice about the fact that I had a ton of questions. I stayed away from the chips, but there were many things on the menu that I could have. The spinach and mushroom enchiladas are fine as is. The quesadilas are fine as long as you use corn tortillas. Brandon cautioned that if I wanted the chicken enchiladas, I should order them with the grilled fajita chicken and not the enchilada chicken because of all of the spices they use...he just said there was more room for error and contamination from earlier preparation. (I'm very sensitive to contamination so it made me happy to hear him say this!)

So what did I order? I got the chicken fajitas with white corn tortillas and let me tell you, they were the best corn tortillas I've ever eaten! They were warm, soft and and full of yumminess! The grilled veggies, guac, beans and rice were all fine too.

Needless to say, I give Tortilla Coast 5 gluten free stars! There were many options and the entire staff was knowledgeable, friendly and understanding! Most importantly, I did not get sick! Like I mentioned before, I'm very sensitive to contamination so I get sick pretty easily.
The same people that own Tortilla Coast own Cafe Deluxe (Bethesda, Tysons and DC locations) so I'll have to check them out too!
Tortilla Coast: 400 First Street SE
Washington, DC
202. 546.6768

Who Am I?

Welcome to my blog! Ever since I was diagnosed with Celiac's Disease in August 2007, I've been telling myself that I would start a blog for foodies restricted to a gluten free diet. While there are websites that post gluten free restaurants, you typically only find Outback, which don't get me wrong, I think it's great that they have a gluten free menu! That being said, there are so many restaurants that are willing to accommodate gluten allergies that aren't as well known as Outback. I live in Alexandria, VA (right outside of Washington, D.C.) so I'm particularly interested in finding and supporting restaurants in this area that are gluten free friendly. The Husband and I love food, whether cooking at home or going out to eat and we actually eat such better food now that I've been diagnosed. I hope that others will share on this website what restaurants they've been to that accomodate their gluten free needs.